The benefits of yoga for women are as ancient as the exercise itself. With plenty of modern research available, the understanding of those benefits is better and broader than ever before.
Although yoga lingo — from pranayama to vinyasa — may be hard for beginners to get a handle on at first, the wide range of benefits you'll reap from regular yoga practice is easy to understand before you even set foot on the mat.
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While many of yoga's physical and mental benefits target everyday women's health issues or are specific to women alone, the vast majority of its fitness perks apply to the whole gender spectrum. People of all ages can reap the benefits.
The health benefits of yoga for women range from muscular to cardiovascular to mental — and beyond.
The Physical Benefits
Among the most obvious benefits of yoga for women and men alike are those that pertain to physical fitness. Chief among those physical benefits, according to Harvard Health Publishing, are:
- Greater muscle strength
- Increased endurance
- More flexibility
- Improved respiration
- Reduced joint pain
- Better posture
- Heightened balance and mobility
The experts at Harvard Health Publishing also note some less visible benefits. Consistent yoga practice may lead to a reduction in migraines and fewer instances of health complications, such as osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and fibromyalgia. Through its combination of increasing muscle strength and improving flexibility, yoga is also an effective weapon in the battle against back pain.
Published in May 2014 in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a small study of 36 older women (with an average age of 72 years) found that yoga exhibits significant therapeutic benefits for osteoarthritis sufferers.
On a larger scale, the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews analyzed a total of 24 existing studies totaling 2,166 participants. In January 2017, they concluded that moderate evidence supports the positive effect of yoga practice on the quality of life and mental health of women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Yoga Benefits Research: The Heart
Despite its perception as a men's issue, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death for women in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this illness killed more than 299,578 women in the U.S. in 2017, accounting for about one in every five female deaths.
This makes the importance of yoga for women paramount in terms of its potential heart-related benefits. Research analyzing 1,404 participant records from a December 2014 issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology has found that regular yoga practice has a noticeably positive influence on cardiovascular risk factors (especially when compared to no exercise at all). The journal reports that yoga decreased total cholesterol by 18.48 milligrams per deciliter of blood and triglycerides by 25.89 mg/dl.
And that data's not alone alone. In a smaller scale March 2016 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 80 patients with heart-related issues practiced yoga and deep breathing for 12 weeks. Not only did the results show decreased heart rates and lower blood pressure, but the participants reported better mental health scores too.
The Mental Benefits
Speaking of improved mental health, the importance of yoga for women isn't limited to enhanced physical fitness. According to the Mayo Clinic, this form of exercise not only elevates your mood and sense of well-being, but it's a legitimate method for reducing stress and anxiety. That preventive ability extends to more chronic mental health issues as well, including depression, anxiety and insomnia.
In fact, a February 2018 small study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine _dived into yoga's promising effects on female mental health. In the experiment, 52 women with a median age of 33.5 practiced roughly an hour of _hatha yoga three times per week for one month.
The researchers found that, even with this relatively condensed schedule, "Yoga has an effective role in reducing stress, anxiety and depression that can be considered as complementary medicine and reduce the medical cost per treatment by reducing the use of drugs."
Similarly, Harvard Health Publishing points out that just as yoga strives to hone your inner awareness, it can sharpen your bodily awareness and even contribute to a healthier body image.
"Yoga has an effective role in reducing stress, anxiety and depression. " — International Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 9, 2018
Read more: How Often Should You Do Yoga a Week?
Weight Loss and Maintenance
Yoga's calorie burn isn't quite going to match a spin on the stationary bike, with Harvard Health Publishing estimating that 30 minutes of hatha yoga only skims off about 149 calories for a 155-pound woman. In comparison, the stationary bike melts about 260 calories in the same amount of time.
Calories counts aside, yoga does help your body trim down and maintain a healthy weight in less direct, more sustained ways. Just 30 minutes of yoga per week, says Harvard, can lead to less weight gain in adults as well as a lower average body mass index when yoga is practiced regularly over the years.
This trend likely owes a lot to how yoga, via its focus on mindfulness, potentially changes your eating habits. Harvard reports that yogis are less likely to eat when full, and typically engage in less "emotional eating" when sad, stressed or distracted.
The Pros of Prenatal Yoga
If there's a time in your life that you can really benefit from advantages like boosted strength, controlled breathing and a finely tuned ability to relax, it's during pregnancy. For these reasons and others, the Mayo Clinic touts prenatal yoga as a safe and beneficial practice for expectant mothers (not to mention the April 2019 data from Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, which found that infertile women may experience decreased stress levels via yoga practice).
Of course, improved strength, flexibility and muscle endurance will come into play during childbirth itself — as will a focus on deep breathing, a must during contractions. Yoga's potential for reducing back pain, nausea and headaches will happily come into play for all nine months before the big day, too.
If that's not convincing enough, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine took a deeper dive into the topic in its August 2018 issue.
Read more: 10 Best Yoga Poses for Beginners
After studying 200 women ages 20 to 35 from 30 weeks of gestation onward, researchers have found that prenatal yoga practice led to a decrease in induced labor, fewer cesarean sections, a shorter first stage of labor, improved pain tolerance and a lessened instance of low birth weight in babies.
It gets even better: The study found that "there were no adverse effects attributed to yoga," and all of the women involved had no prior yoga experience. If those 200 women found their way into yoga practice from the ground up, it's a good bet that you can too. Better grab a mat.
- SAGE Journals: European Journal of Preventive Cardiology: "The Effectiveness of Yoga in Modifying Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease and Metabolic Syndrome: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heart Disease: "Women and Heart Disease"
- SAGE Journals: European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing: "Effects of Yoga in Patients With Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation — A Randomized Controlled Study"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Yoga — Benefits Beyond the Mat"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Physical Benefits of Yoga"
- PubMed — U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "Yoga for Managing Knee Osteoarthritis in Older Women: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial"
- Mayo Clinic: "Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity"
- PubMed — U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Women"
- Mayo Clinic: "Prenatal Yoga: What You Need to Know"
- PubMed — U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Prenatal Yoga: "Effects on Alleviation of Labor Pain and Birth Outcomes"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- PubMed — U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "Yoga for Improving Health-Related Quality of Life, Mental Health and Cancer-Related Symptoms in Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer"
- PubMed — U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "The Effect of Yoga on Stress Level in Infertile Women"